British Columbia

Injunction to reinstate SFU football denied. Special adviser appointed

Players and the SFU Football Alumni Society were seeking to have the program revived after the university suddenly announced it was terminating the team.

SFU officials announced the termination of the school's 57-year-old football program on April 4

People in red shirts are pictured at a rally with a placard behind them reading 'Let them play!'
Alumni and supporters of the Simon Fraser Football program are pictured outside of the courthouse in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, April 13, 2023. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

An injunction application brought by five players of the now-defunct Simon Fraser University football team has been denied in B.C. Supreme Court, but supporters say the fight to keep the program alive is not over.

The players were seeking to have the team revived after university president Joy Johnson suddenly announced in a statement five weeks ago the end of the 57-year-old program.

The decision received tremendous backlash and was widely criticized as non-transparent and unfair to players. A "Save SFU Football" pledge day raised over $700,000 to help keep the team going. 

On Thursday,  SFU appointed Bob Copeland, senior vice president of McLaren Global Sport Solutions, to serve as a special adviser to explore future football options. 

SFU Football Alumni Society president Mark Bailey said the court decision doesn't exclude the team from playing a nine-game exhibition schedule proposed to Johnson last month, arguing it's the best way for the university to support Copeland's investigation.

"You wouldn't send a principal into a classroom to assess a class with no class in session," said Bailey. 

"I believe it's in SFU's best interest that they have the program live as opposed to being dormant because otherwise, all they're doing is fact-checking and looking through data ... You need to see the processes that are transpiring to fully grasp and understand what the program is as of right now."

Speaking to CBC for the first time since cancelling the program, Johnson said she's "optimistic about finding a way forward together."

"I want to emphasize that I do think [eliminating football] was the right decision," she said.

"We have heard from our alumni, football alumni and the broader community ... and I'm excited about that to tell you the truth. Because it demonstrates that people want to step up and stand behind this program. And we will need that support if we are going to have a sustainable, competitive program."

Copeland and McLaren CEO Richard McLaren will be at SFU next week for preliminary meetings, according to SFU.

Johnson cited "ongoing uncertainty" as a reason behind cancelling the team, based on a decision by the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference to drop SFU football at the end of the upcoming season.

On the same day, SFU senior athletic director Theresa Hanson told players the decision was not financially motivated and called the process to join another conference "very complex." 

Players and alumni were blindsided by the announcement and wondered why the school was pulling the plug with a year remaining in the Lone Star Conference. They also questioned why administrators didn't bother to apply to other conferences like Canada West or the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).


Karin Larsen


Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.